The Art of the Loop Play in Rugby Attack
The Art of the Loop Play in Rugby Attack

The Art of the Loop Play in Rugby Attack


Unlocking the Secrets of Rugby’s Dynamic Offensive Strategy

In the thrilling world of rugby, where power and precision converge on the field, the loop play stands out as a strategic gem. This dynamic offensive maneuver involves intricate coordination among players, cleverly timed passes, and the element of surprise. As we delve into the heart of rugby’s loop play, we will explore its mechanics, the key players involved, and its strategic implications within the game.

The Essence of a Loop Play

A loop play in rugby is a strategic offensive maneuver used to outwit the opposing defense. At its core, it involves a player running towards the line of the opposition, only to veer away and pass the ball to a supporting teammate who has looped around behind. This unexpected change in direction and the swift transfer of possession can catch the opposition off guard, creating opportunities for the attacking team.

The loop play is a manifestation of rugby’s tactical sophistication. It’s a chess move on the pitch, requiring precise timing, communication, and teamwork. To dissect this maneuver further, let’s break down the key elements of a loop play.

The Key Players

  1. The Ball Carrier: At the heart of the loop play is the ball carrier. This player, often a forward or a back with strong running abilities, initiates the maneuver by running towards the defensive line.
  2. The Support Runner: The support runner is the linchpin of the loop play. This player positions themselves behind the ball carrier, ready to receive the pass. Timing is crucial, as the support runner needs to be in the right place at the right time.
  3. The Pivot: A pivotal player in the loop play is the pivot. Typically, a fly-half or an inside center takes on this role. The pivot receives the ball from the support runner, and their decision-making skills are crucial. They must read the defense and decide whether to continue the attack, pass to another teammate, or kick the ball.

The Mechanics

Phase 1: Ball Carrier Attacks

The loop play begins with the ball carrier charging towards the defensive line. This movement attracts defenders, who anticipate a direct confrontation with the ball carrier.

Phase 2: The Loop

As the ball carrier approaches the defensive line, they execute a sudden change in direction, veering away from the defenders. Simultaneously, the support runner loops around behind the ball carrier, positioning themselves to receive the pass.

Phase 3: The Pass

The ball carrier, now having distanced themselves from the defenders, swiftly passes the ball to the support runner. This pass should be accurate and well-timed, ensuring the support runner receives the ball in stride.

Phase 4: Decision-Making

Once in possession of the ball, the support runner has several options. They can choose to exploit gaps in the defense, pass the ball to other teammates, or even kick for territory. The pivot often plays a critical role in this decision-making process.

Strategic Implications

Now that we understand the mechanics and key players involved in a loop play, let’s explore the strategic implications of this maneuver within the context of a rugby match.

1. Breaking the Defensive Line

The primary objective of a loop play is to breach the opponent’s defensive line. By drawing defenders towards the ball carrier, there is an inherent risk for the defense. If they commit too many players to tackle the ball carrier, it creates space elsewhere on the field. The loop play exploits this by quickly shifting possession to the support runner, who can exploit the newfound gaps in the defense.

2. Creating Overlaps

Loop plays are often used to create overlaps in the defensive line. As the ball carrier veers away from the defenders, it forces the opposition to adjust their positioning. If executed effectively, this can result in a numerical advantage for the attacking team on the outside, allowing for an easy progression down the field.

3. Confusing the Defense

Rugby is a game of split-second decisions, and the loop play capitalizes on this fact. The sudden change in direction by the ball carrier and the looping movement of the support runner can confuse defenders, leading to miscommunications and defensive breakdowns. This confusion can be exploited to gain precious meters on the field.

4. Exploiting Defensive Weaknesses

Effective loop plays require a deep understanding of the opposing defense. Teams often study their opponents’ defensive patterns and weaknesses in advance. By identifying vulnerable areas in the defense, a well-executed loop play can exploit these weaknesses for maximum gain.

5. Variations and Creativity

One of the beauties of rugby is its adaptability and creativity. The loop play is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Teams can develop variations and adapt the play to suit their style and the specific circumstances of a match. This adaptability keeps the opposition guessing and enhances the element of surprise.

The Loop Play in Action

To truly appreciate the art of the loop play, let’s examine a hypothetical scenario on the rugby field, showcasing how this maneuver unfolds in real-time.

Scenario: The attacking team, known for their skilled backs, is deep in their own half but sees an opportunity to exploit the opposition’s defense.

Phase 1: Ball Carrier Attacks

The scrum-half, a crafty player with a keen eye for opportunities, receives the ball from a ruck. He immediately sets his sights on the opposing defensive line. As he charges forward, the defenders narrow their focus on stopping him, sensing an imminent collision.

Phase 2: The Loop

Just as the defenders prepare to make the tackle, the scrum-half executes a deft sidestep and simultaneously passes the ball behind him. The support runner, a lightning-quick winger, has looped around from the blindside, catching the pass in full stride.

Phase 3: The Pass

The pass from the scrum-half is pinpoint accurate, allowing the support runner to accelerate into space. The defenders who had committed to tackling the scrum-half are now caught out of position.

Phase 4: Decision-Making

With the ball now in the hands of the support runner, he evaluates his options. He spies a gap in the defensive line on the left, where the opposition’s winger has rushed up too quickly. Sensing an opportunity, the support runner accelerates through the gap, drawing in the remaining defenders and offloading to a supporting teammate.

In this hypothetical scenario, the loop play has allowed the attacking team to break through the opposition’s defensive line, exploit a gap, and create a scoring opportunity. It showcases the effectiveness of this maneuver when executed with precision and timing.

The Role of Training and Communication

Achieving success with loop plays requires meticulous training and seamless communication among team members. Let’s delve into the critical aspects of preparation and coordination that make the loop play a potent weapon in a team’s offensive arsenal.


1. Timing and Spacing

Timing is everything in a loop play. Players must practice the precise moment to initiate the loop and execute the pass. Proper spacing is also essential to ensure that the support runner can receive the ball without breaking stride.

2. Decision-Making

The support runner and pivot must work on their decision-making skills. They should practice scenarios to recognize defensive patterns and make split-second choices based on the situation.

3. Defensive Drills

Understanding the defensive response to a loop play is equally important. Teams often practice against their own loop plays in training to help defenders anticipate and counter the maneuver.


1. Verbal Signals

Verbal communication is vital during a loop play. Players should use clear and concise verbal signals to coordinate their movements. The ball carrier may shout the name of the support runner to indicate the pass.

2. Non-Verbal Cues

In the heat of a match, verbal communication may be challenging due to noise and crowd volume. Therefore, non-verbal cues, such as eye contact and hand signals, become crucial for seamless execution.

3. Teamwork and Trust

Ultimately, successful loop plays are built on trust among teammates. Players need to trust that their counterparts will be in the right position at the right time, both to pass and receive the ball.

Loop Play Variations

As with any effective strategy, rugby teams often develop variations of the loop play to keep their opponents guessing. Here are a few noteworthy variations that add depth to this dynamic offensive maneuver.

1. Dummy Loop Play

In a dummy loop play, the support runner mimics the loop but does not receive the pass. This decoy movement is designed to confuse the defense and create gaps in the line. The ball carrier may choose to keep the ball or pass to a different supporting player.

2. Double Loop Play

In the double loop play, two support runners loop around the ball carrier simultaneously. This creates multiple passing options, putting additional pressure on the defense. The pivot must be adept at reading the defense and making quick decisions.

3. Loop Play with a Kicker

This variation incorporates a kicking option into the loop play. The support runner, upon receiving the ball, may choose to execute a grubber kick or a chip kick to exploit space behind the defensive line. This adds an element of unpredictability to the attack.

The Psychology of Defending Against Loop Plays

To appreciate the intricacies of the loop play, it’s essential to understand how the defense responds and adapts to this offensive tactic. Defending against loop plays requires a combination of tactical awareness, communication, and discipline.

1. Communication

Communication is paramount in defense. Defenders must constantly communicate with each other to identify the ball carrier and the support runner. Verbal cues such as “watch the loop” or “inside runner” help defenders make informed decisions.

2. Drifting Defense

To counter the loop play effectively, defenders often employ a drifting defense strategy. This involves defenders shifting laterally, maintaining their defensive line integrity, and adjusting to the movement of the support runner.

3. Defensive Reads

Experienced defenders learn to read the body language and cues of the attacking players. They look for signs of a loop play, such as the ball carrier suddenly angling away from contact or the support runner’s positioning.

4. Covering the Gaps

Defenders need to anticipate the creation of gaps in the defensive line and react quickly to fill those spaces. If the loop play succeeds in creating overlaps, covering those overlaps becomes critical.

5. Counter-Attacking

While defending against a loop play, astute defenders also consider the possibility of intercepting the pass or creating turnovers. If the pass is not executed perfectly, it presents an opportunity for the defense to seize possession.

Loop Play

The loop play in rugby is a testament to the sport’s strategic complexity and the artistry of its players. With its ability to break defensive lines, create overlaps, and befuddle opponents, the loop play remains a cherished offensive tactic.

As rugby continues to evolve, teams will undoubtedly refine and innovate their use of the loop play, adding new chapters to its storied history. Whether executed by seasoned professionals on the international stage or by enthusiastic amateurs on local pitches, the loop play remains a captivating and indispensable facet of rugby’s vibrant tapestry.